Meredith L. Patterson (maradydd) wrote,
Meredith L. Patterson

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The Fungible Audience Fallacy

Incidents of "Shanley Kane verbally attacks some friend of mine in some way that is obviously counter to her stated goals" keep rolling in at the rate of about one every two weeks. Last time, it was bashing a friend who started slinging C professionally around the time I was born because "her generation" didn't create the workers' utopia (by Shanley-logic, this apparently means my friend "doesn't belong in technology," because what the fuck); this time around she's up in netik's grill about how abuse reporting on Twitter should be a solved problem already because of his FUCKING AMAZING COMPUTER SKILLZZZ (yes, that's a quote -_-).

Over on Facebook, a friend of netik's observed:
I don't think she's insane. I think she's cognizant of a character she's portraying, and an audience she's playing to. I think the same of Rush Limbaugh.

I find this especially interesting in light of Scott Alexander's recent post about the motte-and-bailey doctrine, aka "strategic equivocation".

Activists of all stripes point to "raising awareness" as a last-ditch defence of their activities; the implication seems to be that maybe they didn't do anything to solve the problem themselves, but at least now more people know about the problem and maybe one of them will solve it. (When did passing the buck become a thing to pat yourself on the back over?) Taking into account the human cognitive bias toward remembering unusual/bizarre things over ordinary ones, it follows readily that the most successful "awareness-raisers" will be the ones who stand out as discordant in some way. As a meta-strategy, staking out the farthest-out-in-the-bailey positions you can find and defending them as loudly and obnoxiously as you can generalises to every ideology I can think of.

The problem with this strategy is that listeners aren't fungible. Not all listeners are equally capable of solving hard problems, so if your stance is going to be "if you don't like my bailey then you can't be in this motte either," (ETA: which rezendi pointed out may very well be a deliberate attempt to move the Overton window; I should have made that explicit earlier) you have to have a really good heuristic for figuring out who can't solve problems you care about and can therefore be alienated without much further thought versus who can and should therefore be interacted with more, erm, thoughtfully. Which makes this an especially stupid argument on Shanley's part, because as far as I can tell, she and netik share a motte, and whatever semblance of a map she might have for improving Twitter's response to abuse is useless without the territory knowledge of someone like netik.

Perhaps rather than "she's insane" it would be more accurate to say "her decision-making criteria are incomprehensible." I mean, maybe she thinks yelling at an ex-Twitter employee will knock a few neurons together in someone currently working at Twitter (perhaps one of her readers) and get them to solve the problem. If she were a better social engineer she might even be right about that, except for the fact that the problem is also nowhere near as tractable as she thinks it is and she doesn't seem to have any interest in examining its structure. I think that counts as irony.

As usual, nearly everything that matters is a side effect.
Tags: attention economics, someone is wrong on the internet, your brilliant idea does not work

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